Do Americans really need advice from Italy on how to grill?
Well, yeah, according to Mario Batali, the American chef who has built an empire as one of this country's masters of Italian cooking, with seven New York restaurants and spots in Vegas and Los Angeles, television shows, and six cookbooks, including his newest, "Mario Batali Italian Grill" (Harper Collins, $29.95).
Before anyone takes offense, however, in terms of grilling prowess, "Americans are the masters — hands down," said Batali. The point is: Italians do some pretty cool things, too, focusing on ingredients, simplicity and a light touch when it comes to the flame.
Rather than "goopy" sauce, he said, you'll find light marinades. And rather than charring, the focus is on smoke.
"That fifth flavor — what they call umami in Japanese ... in Italian, it's smoke," he said. "But you're just looking for the delicate flavor of smoke to come into the game, rather than be the game."
Batali is, after all, an American (he's from Seattle).
Batali's cookbook is geared for the home cook.
"When I'm at home, or in Michigan, this is what I really cook," he said.
He and his wife and sons have a vacation home on Michigan's Leelanau Peninsula.
"Last summer we (photographed the book) over 4th of July weekend. All summer (the kids and I) cooked all these recipes. They go wild over all the little bread things, the focaccina (with roasted garlic, green onions and provolone) and the piadina (with prosciutto and mascarpone). They love anything in cartoccio (foil packs), so we'll do the clams that way and throw them on the grill.
"And if we do anything on the spit roaster, the kids go wild," adds Batali. "They love the sound it makes — that hrrrn-hrrnnnn — there's a lot of promise in it. They know they're going to have a good time when they hear that."